The Muse by Jessie Burton
Published June 30, 2016 by Picador
Source: PanMacmillan Australia
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: England, 1967. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean émigré trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery, she discovers a painting rumored to be the work of Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is matched by the intrigue around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions, Odelle does not know what to believe or who she can trust, including her mesmerizing colleague, Marjorie Quick.Spain, 1937. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and her half-brother Isaac Robles, an idealistic and ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. A dilettante buoyed by the revolutionary fervor that will soon erupt into civil war, Isaac dreams of being a painter as famous as his countryman, Picasso.Raised in poverty, these illegitimate children of the local landowner revel in exploiting this wealthy Anglo-Austrian family. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss’s lives, Teresa and Isaac help Olive conceal her artistic talents with devastating consequences that will echo into the decades to come.The Muse, Jessie Burton's second novel, tells the story of three women and how their lives intersect. It's 1967 in London. Odelle Bastien arrived five years earlier, along with her childhood friend, Cynth. Her mother remains in Trinidad, her father died during World War II. She and Cynth share a flat in Clapham and work in a shoe store, but Odelle has always longed for more. After sending out her resume, she is offered a position at the Skelton Art Gallery as a typist, and is soon taken in by an enigmatic older lady, Marjorie Quick. After a chance meeting at Cynth's wedding, Odelle is shown a painting and is then caught up in the story of it's origin, which involves nineteen year old Olive Schloss and sixteen year old Teresa Robles.
It can be difficult for characters to share the spotlight in stories with multiple perspectives, but Burton artfully captured each girl's personality and I loved getting to know all of them. Odelle's yearning for more and her love of writing was endearing. She's lonely once Cynth gets married, but she is supported by Marjorie, who encourages her writing. I loved Olive's determination to paint, to show her father her talent, even if it was surreptitiously. Teresa was sad and sweet, but I admired her determination to push others into sharing their talent. The girls had their differences but also shared similarities, such as being unsure of their place in the world and what their future would hold for them.
The settings were equally vivid, both London in the 60s and Spain in the 30s, but in such contrasting ways. The scenes with Odelle in London conveyed the rules hemming her in based on her skin colour and nationality. Spain on the other hand felt lawless and unpredictable, the brewing tension was palpable. The switch between settings and time periods was effortless, both just as captivating.
The mystery element was really well done, I was intrigued from the beginning and often thought I had it all worked out, only to read on and discover I was incorrect. I also loved the art aspect, each painting was perfectly described and so easy to imagine.
The Muse is a compelling and beautifully written novel featuring three cleverly woven stories that touch on family, war, secrets, and love.
Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.
I LOVE Lisa Perrin's illustrations so I was thrilled to be able to paint another of her beautiful book covers (she also illustrated the cover of Wink Poppy Midnight).
I started with a base of China Glaze First Mate . I used acrylic paint for the illustrations.